Gene Rayburn

Gene Rayburn

Infobox actor television
name = Gene Rayburn
caption = Rayburn in his most famous role, as host of "Match Game", in 1975.

birthname = Eugene Rubessa
birthdate = Birth date|1917|12|22
birthplace = Christopher, Illinois, Raised in Benton, Illinois
deathdate = Death date and age|1999|11|29|1917|12|22
deathplace = Gloucester, Massachusetts
occupation = Game Show Host, Announcer
spouse = Helen Ticknor Rayburn
credits = "Match Game"
emmyawards =
awards = Lifetime Achievement Award - from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences

Gene Rayburn (December 22, 1917 – November 29, 1999) was an American radio and television personality. Born Eugene Rubessa (pronounced|ruˈbeʃɑ) and an only child of Croatian immigrants, he graduated from Knox College.

Rayburn was married to Helen Ticknor from 1940 until her death in October 1996. They had one child, a daughter, Lynn. After the birth of their child, Rayburn was drafted into the U.S. Air Force.

He chose his stage name by randomly pointing at a page in the telephone book, after being told "Rubessa" sounded "too Italian".

Television career

Before appearing in television, Rayburn was a very successful actor and radio performer. He had a popular morning-drive New York radio show, first with Jack Lescoulie ("Anything Goes") and later with Dee Finch (Rayburn & Finch) on WNEW-AM (now WBBR). Radio history pegs Rayburn's pairings with Lescoulie and Finch as the first two-man teams in morning radio. When Rayburn left WNEW, Dee Finch continued the format with Gene Klavan.

He also landed the lead in the Broadway musical "Bye Bye Birdie" after Dick Van Dyke left the production to star in the classic sitcom which bears his name.

Breaking into television as the original announcer on Steve Allen's "Tonight", Gene Rayburn began a long association with game-show producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman in 1953. He first appeared on Robert Q. Lewis's "The Name's the Same"; Rayburn frequently sat in for regular panelist Carl Reiner. lending a comic touch to the panel. In 1955, he took over as host of the summer-replacement game show, "Make the Connection", from original host, Jim McKay. From there he hosted shows such as "Choose Up Sides", "Dough Re Mi", and the daytime version of "Tic Tac Dough" (which, unlike the rigged nighttime version hosted by Jay Jackson, was "clean" and unaffected by the quiz show scandals). On radio, Rayburn became one of the many hosts of the popular NBC program "Monitor" in 1961 and remained with the show until 1973.

In an uncredited role (he reportedly did not want his name to appear), Rayburn played a TV interviewer in the 1959 movie, "It Happened to Jane" starring Doris Day. His involvement was mentioned on an episode of "Match Game '77" and on his guest appearance in "Card Sharks".

During the 1960s, when "The Tonight Show" was based in New York, he occasionally substituted for host Johnny Carson. In 1967, Carson made a surprise appearance on the original black-and-white version of "The Match Game" during the same week that "Tonight" announcer Ed McMahon was a guest celebrity. In 1973, Rayburn recalled his guest-hosting duties as being "the hardest job" he ever had.

Rayburn was also a frequent panelist in the 1960s and '70s on "What's My Line" and "To Tell the Truth," where the interviewing skills he burnished on "Monitor" made him a popular questioner.

It was also mentioned that the late great game show host, Bill Cullen, was obviously a very good friend of Rayburn's, who appeared on "Match Game", and various other shows.

"The Match Game"

From 1962 to 1969 Rayburn hosted "The Match Game". The original version, which aired from New York on NBC, had Rayburn reading questions to two panels. Each panel consisted of a celebrity and two audience members. The questions in the original game were ordinary, like "Name a kind of muffin," or "John loves his ____________." Rayburn's hosting duties were usually straightfoward, although he would occasionally make jokes as the situation warranted. Because it was a live show, broadcast weekdays at 4:00 p. m. Eastern time, very few episodes were recorded for posterity; only four half-hours are known to exist. The show was cancelled in 1969 to make room for the topical, short-lived game show "Letters to Laugh-In".

Goodson-Todman revived "The Match Game" in 1973, for CBS. Gene Rayburn returned as host, and introduced a new format in which two contestants had to match the responses of six celebrities. Writer Dick DeBartolo, a veteran of the original show, now came up with funnier and usually naughtier questions ("After being hit by a steamroller, Norman had to slide his ____________ under the door.") Rayburn reveled in this free-wheeling new approach, and often indulged in funny voices, banter with the celebrities, and mock arguments with the technical crew. Millions tuned in, and it soon became the highest-rated show in daytime television history.

From 1973 to 1977, it was #1 among all daytime network game shows — three of those years the highest rated in "all" of daytime — fueled by the zany questions and Rayburn's witty style. The show is often remembered not for the celebrity panels, but for Rayburn's antics, including breaking through the entrance doors, roller-skating on stage, and modeling fashions for the audience.

The daytime revival of "The Match Game", which featured regular panelists Richard Dawson, Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly, ran until 1979 on CBS and another three years in first-run syndication until 1982, with a concurrent night-time version, "Match Game PM", airing from 1975 to 1981. Rayburn was nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Game or Audience Participation Show.

During the years when "The Match Game" was taped in Los Angeles, Rayburn lived in Osterville, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, and would commute to California every two weeks to tape 12 shows over the course of a weekend (five daytime shows and one nighttime show per taping day).

In 1983, a year after the syndicated "Match Game" disappeared, the show was revived as part of the "Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour", with Rayburn hosting the Match Game segment and sitting on the panel of the "Hollywood Squares" segment. The show lasted nine months on NBC.

Perhaps, one of the most famous "Match Game" moments came during a taping in 1974 he unintentionally told a contestant, Karen Lesko, that she had "pretty nipples," meaning to say "dimples." The incident was cut from the original CBS episode. Rayburn frequently and openly ogled pretty female contestants.

He knitted socks as a publicity stunt during his time on "Rayburn and Finch" and later became avid in needlepoint, so much to the point that he would constantly do some in plane rides from New York to "Match Game" tapings in Hollywood. In a 1974 "Match Game" episode, program packager Mark Goodson made a surprise visit to congratulate the host on making the show #1 among daytime television programs and Goodson gave Rayburn a needlepoint bag as a gift.

Being of Croatian ancestry, Rayburn could also speak the language fluently.

During his time in the Air Force, Rayburn was trained in meteorology and occasionally demonstrated his knowledge of the weather on "Match Game".

Other game shows/television appearances

During and between his "Match Game" years, Rayburn served as guest panelist on two other Goodson-Todman shows, "What's My Line?" and "To Tell the Truth", where he exhibited the same inquisitiveness on serious subjects he showed on "Match Game". Also during the run of the 1970s "Match Game", Gene and wife Helen appeared on the game show "Tattletales", hosted by Bert Convy. Gene was a long time host on NBC Radio's "Monitor". Three years after the original "Match Game" was cancelled, Rayburn hosted the short-lived Heatter-Quigley Productions show, "The Amateur's Guide to Love" (1972). He also hosted a pilot for Reg Grundy Productions in 1983 called "Party Line", which later became "Bruce Forsyth's Hot Streak" (which first aired in 1986 and was cancelled after 13 weeks).

Rayburn appeared as a contestant during the Game Show Hosts Week of "Card Sharks".

Rayburn once hosted a local New York City-based show on WNEW-TV (now WNYW), "Helluva Town," and years later he would return to WNEW-TV as the host of "Saturday Morning Live" in the 1980s.

Rayburn appeared on "Fantasy Island" as a game-show host — he and another host were game show rivals who wanted to do the ultimate game show to win the woman they both loved; Roarke accommodated them with a game-show set, but the host's chair was more like a throne, and death was a real possibility. In the end, the two men, in a dead heat, were offered a final tie-breaker, a "sudden death" round.

In between game show stints in 1982-83, Rayburn hosted a weekly local talk/lifestyles show seen live on WNEW-TV in New York City called "Saturday Morning Live". His tenure was brief when he ultimately accepted the hosting assignment for "The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour".

The final game shows Rayburn emceed were 1985's "Break the Bank", where Rayburn was fired after 13 weeks and replaced by Joe Farago, and "The Movie Masters", an AMC cable game show that ran from 1989 to 1990.

Right before production was to begin on a new Rayburn-emceed "Match Game" revival in 1985, an "Entertainment Tonight" reporter publicly disclosed his age, which was much older than many people believed. Rayburn had trouble finding jobs after that, blaming the reporter for disclosing his age and subjecting him to age discrimination.

Rayburn portrayed himself on a "Saturday Night Live" sketch in 1990, which featured Susan Lucci (as her character from "All My Children", Erica Kane). He returned as one of Kane's previous husbands (alluding to Erica Kane's many marriages during her stint on that show), stopping another marriage with the host of a game show portrayed by Phil Hartman. He also continued to make appearances on talk shows throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, usually to discuss classic game shows, including appearances on "The Late Show with Ross Shafer" (ironically, Shafer would host the ensuing "Match Game" revival four years later), "Vicki!" and "The Maury Povich Show".


Rayburn's last TV appearance was a 1998 interview with "Access Hollywood" intended to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the CBS "Match Game". Portions of the interview have been re-shown on the Game Show Network which in 2001 showed portions of another previously unaired interview during the first airing of its "Match Game Blankathon".

Rayburn died at his daughter's home of congestive heart failure in 1999, one month after receiving a Lifetime Achievement award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He was cremated and his ashes spread.

External links

* Rayburn hosts NBC Monitor radio program (audio files)

succession box
after=Ross Shafer
title="Match Game" host
years=1962-1969, 1973-1982, & 1983-1984
succession box
title="Play Your Hunch" host
before=Merv Griffin
after=Robert Q. Lewis
succession box
before=Jack Barry
after=Bill Wendell
title="Tic Tac Dough" host
Concurrent with Jay Jackson and Win Elliot
succession box
after=Hugh Downs
title="The Tonight Show" announcer/sidekick



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